Opinion: Anning's speech proves Parliament needs a code of conduct

 

Muslim mother and lawyer, Ramia Abdo Sultan, thinks Senator Fraser Anning's factually inaccurate and roundly condemned 'final solution' speech should trigger a review of what's acceptable conduct in Parliament.

“Why does he hate us?”

That was the first question my 11-year-old asked me when she heard Senator Fraser Anning’s maiden speech. 

I really didn’t want her to hear those words. But how could I stop her and her two younger sisters? I thought if they saw their mum interviewed on SBS News in response to the speech, they would be inspired and motivated to push on. 

But I was wrong. Of course they were excited to see me on the news, but how wrong was I to expect they could simply overlook the deeply hurtful and carefully chosen statements made by a senator.

Now I was tasked with explaining to my children why a man who has never met us hates us.

“He doesn’t hate us. He just hates anyone who may not look or act like him – and that isn’t our fault.” I had to reassure my girls that they are Australian.

 Ms Abdo Sultan and others react on SBS News.  

It is exhausting having these conversations time and time again with children who don’t know any better.

We aren’t the welfare-scabbing, law-breaking Muslims that Anning concocted. As far as my children are concerned, their mother is a lawyer, their father is a pharmacist, their grandparents on both sides are educated and have worked and contributed to Australia. 

When Anning said those despicable words in parliament, it made me think, “I don’t recall my parents ever having to justify or remind me that I am Australian.” When did things go off the rails? 

But deep down, if I’m honest with myself, I know that Islamophobia has always been with us. And because we didn’t pull this noxious weed out from the root long ago, it has sprouted and spread. 

Our leaders ultimately set the tone on the outside. Of course, a healthy Parliament should be entitled to freedom of speech. But it seems like too often freedom of speech is abused more often than it is exercised constructively in parliament. Parliamentarians are allowed to push the limits of free speech on parliament floor in the interest of “rigorous debate”. But how is it acceptable that our represented officials incite hate and division in Parliament while insisting the rest of us abide by anti-discrimination laws? It’s time our parliamentarians are bound by a code of conduct.


Ramia Abdo Sultan is a Sydney-based lawyer.